Davis Divan: Remembering the 1948 Three-Wheeled Sedan Dubbed the 'Ultimate Car Of The FutureIn the post-World War II era, the automotive industry was a hotbed of innovation and opportunity.

With the American public clamoring for new vehicles and new technologies and materials readily available from wartime developments, the time was ripe for bold ideas, no matter how unconventional they seemed.

One such idea came from the creative mind of Glen Gordon “Gary” Davis, an Indiana-based used car salesman.

Drawing inspiration from a custom design by the legendary Indycar designer Frank Kurtis, Davis introduced the Davis Divan, a striking three-wheeled vehicle.

This futuristic car, with its fuel-efficient aluminum body and roomy bench seat, was marketed as a revolutionary concept, promising a glimpse into the automotive future, all at an affordable price of just $1,000.

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler PhotosBefore the Davis Divan, there was “The Californian,” a custom three-wheeled roadster built in 1941 by Frank Kurtis, who later became a designer for Indianapolis 500 racing cars.

This unique vehicle was commissioned by Joel Thorne, a wealthy Californian and racing enthusiast, heir to the Chase bank fortune.

Kurtis took inspiration for its single front wheel from the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft.

In 1945, after moving to Southern California, Gary Davis bought “The Californian” from Thorne, laying the groundwork for the creation of the Davis Divan.

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler PhotosBetween 1947 and 1949, the Davis Motorcar Company produced a total of 16 running vehicles, including 11 pre-production Divans as well as the two prototypes and three military vehicles.

The Davis Divan measured 183.5 inches (466 cm) in length with a wheelbase of 109.5 inches (278 cm), which was remarkably long for a three-wheeled vehicle.

It had a height of 60.0 inches (152 cm) and weighed 2,450 pounds (1,110 kg).
Davis Divan Three-Wheeler PhotosWith a width of 72.0 inches (183 cm), it was wide enough to seat four passengers abreast on its single bench seat; in fact, this feature had inspired the name of the car, which was the Arabic term for a couch or daybed.

The car also featured a removable fiberglass top along with a steel chassis and chrome-trimmed aluminum body.

The body was built with a channel steel frame and 11 body panels made of aluminum and zinc, while the “Baby” prototype had instead been constructed with a tube steel space frame.

Most of the Divans were powered by 2,600 cc, inline-four Continental engines capable of producing 63 hp.

Others, including both the D-1 “Baby” and D-2 “Delta” prototypes, were instead fitted with 47 hp, four-cylinder Hercules industrial engines.

Claims for the Divan’s top speed ranged from 100 mph (160 km/h) to 116 mph (187 km/h).

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler PhotosGary Davis had a keen sense of showmanship and public relations, likely honed during his years selling used cars.

To capitalize on the booming post-World War II American car market, Davis orchestrated significant media coverage for his new car.

His efforts secured features in prestigious magazines such as Business Week, Life, and Parade, as well as appearances in a newsreel and a popular syndicated television crime drama, The Cases of Eddie Drake.

In a promotional event, Davis had four American Airlines stewardesses sit side by side across the car’s single bench seat to demonstrate its ability to carry four adults.
Davis Divan Three-Wheeler PhotosThanks to Gary Davis’s enticing promise of a $1,000 car and the positive reception of the Divan’s public debut, sales at Davis dealerships surged.

This success enabled the company to fund a promotional tour across the United States, where Davis enthusiastically promoted the Divan as “the ultimate car of the future.”

The Divan’s futuristic design captivated show-goers, featuring spaceship-like styling, pop-up headlights, built-in hydraulic jacks, impressive fuel efficiency, and a high top speed.

Many saw it as the embodiment of future automotive technology, just as the advertising material had promised.

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler PhotosA factory was set up in a large hangar at Van Nuys Airport, staffed with workers and equipped for production.

However, turning a prototype into a mass-produced car is a monumental challenge, and the Divan project was no exception.

Investors who had paid for dealerships grew increasingly frustrated as deadlines slipped and they received no cars to sell.

Some even traveled to the Van Nuys facility to see the situation for themselves.

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler PhotosWith finances dwindling, Gary Davis faced lawsuits from both investors and disgruntled workers who weren’t being paid.

Unable to repay debts, he was convicted of fraud and sentenced to manual labor.

Davis maintained his innocence until the end, and many believe his actions stemmed from inexperience in car manufacturing, not malicious intent.

Remarkably, 12 of the 13 Divans built (including prototypes) have survived. One was unfortunately destroyed in the UK due to customs regulations.

Today, these unique vehicles reside in museums, private collections, and some even remain unrestored. Their conditions vary greatly, reflecting their fascinating and troubled history.
Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

Rear view of a Davis Divan.

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

Interior view of a Davis Divan.

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

1948 Davis Divan.

Davis Divan Three-Wheeler Photos

(Photo credit: Autoweek / Wikimedia Commons / Silodrome / Flickr).